AITO Sustainable Tourism Awards

AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators) has green credentials going back to 1988 – that’s an impressive 24 years of consistent green thinking, lobbying and action. Having a Sustainable Tourism (ST) policy, following AITO’s own ST guidelines and appointing an ST manager are prerequisites for AITO membership, so seriously does the association take all things environmental.

Says AITO Chairman Derek Moore: «AITO’s Annual Sustainable Tourism Awards are not just a flash-in-the-pan marketing gimmick but represent real effort and long-term commitment from all involved.

«One of the key criteria is that projects should be replicable by other AITO members and in the wider industry, thus spreading the benefits of the initiatives still further. We’re very proud of AITO members’ efforts in this respect and congratulate all those who entered the Sustainable Tourism Awards.»

The AITO ST Award winners, announced this week, include projects as diverse as new community ‘beneficial business’ set-ups in The Gambia and help with reforestation projects supporting tribal communities in Sarawak. «All show clear environmental commitment and demonstrate intelligent thinking that’s produced admirable projects that deserve our recognition», says Moore. «We hope that others are inspired to emulate AITO members’ efforts.»

AITO Innovation Award
Winner: Explore
Highly Commended: Corsican Places (Serenity Holidays)

Explore has launched a new Sustainable Tourism MSc in partnership with the University of Surrey, designed to help those working in tourism to increase their knowledge and understanding of sustainable tourism. It’s very much based around practical issues, not just theory, using Explore’s in-house practices as the benchmark.

Says Explore Director John Telfer: «Sustainable tourism needs to become an integral focus for the whole tourism industry. We’ve involved a lot of Explore staff in giving seminars on their individual areas of expertise, and we’re using our overseas agents as case studies to demonstrate both opportunities and challenges. A field trip to Morocco gives insight into ST practice on trips, too. These ‘real life’ models add a definite edge, immediacy and relevance to the course.»

Corsican Places‘ initiative is also a first – the company made all three of its weekly charter flights to Corsica during July 2012 carbon neutral.  It engaged customers, staff and Titan Airways in the project, raised funds for a reforestation project on Corsica and demonstrated how ST projects could be relevant to (and important for) developed destinations as well as remoter parts of the world.

AITO Affiliates Green Award
Winner: Lanzarote Tourist Board
Highly Commended: Orion Expedition Cruises (The Cruise Portfolio)

The Lanzarote Tourist Board has, for many years, balanced water conservation and careful design and development alongside an economy that’s dependent upon tourism. It is now a sustainable destination boasting Spain’s first green airport and has a Biosphere hotels programme in place, promoting responsible tourism and educating visitors about the importance of water and energy conservation. It is seen as a reference model for all tourism destinations wishing to become sustainable – a remarkable achievement all told.

Orion Expedition Cruises offer other cruise ships an excellent environmental model to follow – from using only environmentally-friendly marine diesel fuel to holding all waste on board, and from strict passenger guidelines for shore activities to planning itineraries to ensure the most efficient fuel burn.  It has contributed dramatically to improved community living in Papua New Guinea – its philanthropic programme is highly valued by the remote Watam community there and by its guests.

Mosquito nets, malaria medication, ship’s doctor visits to sick villagers plus school books and other equipment have been provided, and a new school house for the village is now complete.

The Roger Diski Community Project Award
Winner: Adventure Alternative
Highly Commended: The Gambia Experience (Serenity Holidays)

The Roger Diski Award – a £1,000 bursary towards a Sustainable Tourism project – is, says green guru Richard Hammond, «A decent project in memory of a decent man». Roger Diski, who founded Rainbow Holidays, was a long-term and passionate advocate of local people in far-flung places perhaps new to visits from tourists; he put the host destination people’s interests first at all times.

The winning project must be community led, involving local people in decisions that affect their lives.

Adventure Alternative, an AITO member based in Northern Ireland, won the 2011 Roger Diski Award too, for a project in Nepal. In 2012, its winning project is in the rain forests of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. It provides a sustained source of income for the Penan people – numbering around 1,000 in total – that both complements their traditional way of life and actively incentivises protection of the natural environment and of the tribe’s cultural heritage.

Simplicity itself, the project funds tree nurseries for reforestation of areas where palm oil plantations and logging have devastated the forest. This means sustainability on many fronts – local and traditional forms of employment, maintenance of native skills and knowledge (eg the medicinal qualities of many of the rainforest plants) and self-sufficiency, as the rainforest is needed for hunting and provision of food as well as supply of traditional building materials. Controlled access by small groups of carefully-selected paying expedition groups and direct payment of local people for reforestation work together deliver income and control of decision-making to the tribe, who know that their efforts to maintain their land and culture are of international relevance and importance. To date, some 25,000 trees have been planted.

This bursary will be used to build a ‘pondok’ accommodation building for visitors. It is an income-generating venture identified by the community but for which they didn’t previously have the funds needed.

The Gambia Experience also has a long history in the promotion of sustainability in its holiday destinations. Its latest step is to fund a new beneficial business (filling the gap between micro loans and aid). As well as a loan, support and business experience is supplied to help establish the business. Once it’s operating well, the business will be passed to the local Gambians running the project. A second strand to this project, the Community Stove initiative, is the benefits derived from having stoves which are both safer and offer health benefits allied with their use of waste products (peanut shells and rice husks) rather than taking fire wood from forests. A notable third strand is empowerment of women – this business is being run by a local Gambian woman, who sells stoves to families.

Tourists can donate a stove (just £20) to a needy family and, in return, receive a photograph and news of the family who’ve benefited. The family is given a fuel supply and personal training in use and maintenance of the stove. Stoves are manufactured locally, providing employment. It’s a virtual circle of benefits, with sustainability built in on many fronts.

AITO operates a star-rating system for its members to demonstrate the level to which they take their environmental commitment, with 5 stars being the highest level. Some 26 members of AITO currently hold the 5-star Sustainable Tourism rating.

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Date / Fecha: 26/11/12

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